Walls and Birds

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Here, the sun beats down brighter than in the north, and the air smells of the sea. There is another scent there too– one of stone and golden sand and very fine dust. Ten generations have walked passed these walls; walls saturated with the histories of those who lived and died within them and without.

Birds gather on the palm trees and stone arches, displaying their many-coloured plumage. Each of them comes from a different place, and their colours range from shimmering green, to vibrant red, to snowy white. Despite their varied origins, they chirp happily to one another, their voices raising a cacophony of noise to the heavens. One flies away, and for a moment, the others fall silent, but only for a moment. They know this place is just a stopover, and each of them understands the pull of the seasons, for they must all hurry back and forth across the world, ever in chase of the best meal in the south or the best home in the north.

The old walls stand as they ever stood, stoic to these comings and goings. They drink the heat of the sun in the daylight, and keep the cold at bay during the night. Patience is their only virtue, but they have it in spades. Some of them are destroyed and rebuilt to serve new purposes. Others are worn down by the years until they are only dust, and this dust is spread amongst​ the same winds that carry the birds to their next destination.

In our travels, we are not unlike the birds. Some of us chase the summer sun, others run from winter’s cold– or towards it– and others still know only that they must leave, but never why. I wonder if the walls are ever perplexed by our migrations, haphazard as they must seem. But one day, even the walls will travel on the wind, just as we do with each passing generation. Perhaps they look at us in envy, wishing they too could so easily experience the change of scenery, before they turn to dust and ruin. Or perhaps they laugh at our whimsy, before turning their faces back to the warmth of their beloved sun.

(These are the birds outside my window that keep me up at 4:30am… but it’s hard to stay mad at them. The picture here, and the one above are from my trip to Malta.)

Weeks Forty & Forty-One

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Rovereto, Italy. Population: ~37,000.

This is the town where I am going to live next school year. It is full of narrow alleyways and wide piazzas with adorable restaurant patios. It is small. Compared to what I am used to, it is tiny. I took a trip there last week, to get a lay of the land. Of course, I liked the mountains best of all, but since I don’t have a car now, traveling to the best hiking spots might be challenging.

I am apprehensive about leaving.  I’ve made a lot of friends/connections here. Although there is much about the system here that I dislike, and I don’t really like my apartment or the town that much, I’ve become used to the way things work here, and who’s to say the next place will have a better system. Anyway it will take me time to become accustomed to everything again. The bother of dealing with bureaucracy again and the language barrier in particular concern me. I don’t speak Italian hardly at all.

On the other hand, I am excited about leaving. The new place is beautiful, I get to learn another language, I get to live in the mountains again (I missed that), I will meet more great people, and I will just get to experience new things.

In some way, I don’t exactly know how to feel. But the plans have been laid, and things will happen in the order that they happen, and I will tackle them as they come.

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Trento, Italy. There are many buildings with beautiful frescos here.

The trip to the Trento area from Saarbrücken was very nice. I went with two other people, one of whom had a car and was willing to drive. We made a road trip out of it. It was great being on the road again, like at home. We stopped in Innsbruck on the way there, and on the way back we stopped by Ehrenberg Castle in Austria, which has the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world. The bridge swayed as we walked across it, but the view was amazing. I wish we had had time to stop by even more places, since I can’t imagine I’ll be back this way by car again, but it was great to see as much as we did, given that we took a random weekend off (and skipped some classes) to do it!

In my life, I have always considered myself shy or introverted. There’s always a part of myself I keep hidden in conversations with other people, and I definitely feel the stress of navigating social situations. On the other hand, I have always enjoyed learning new things, and making connections with other people. A lot of the time, to learn something new (especially a language), you have to talk to people. You have to ask them questions about their work, or their lives. Sometimes, people don’t feel comfortable talking to someone they don’t know, so it makes sense to share a little bit of yourself in the process. I’ve tried my best to be my honest self with other people, in so far as I can be, but it’s never easy to open up. Sometimes, I can’t keep track of people’s reactions, and I start to go on a rant about something I feel strongly about. I don’t notice that I might be coming off too strong.

For the first time in my life, after the road trip, I was called chatty.  It was such a stark contrast to how I have been described in the past, i.e. introverted, nerdy, quiet. I don’t feel like I have changed from that introverted personality that I have on the inside. However, perhaps I have somehow changed how that personality is realized. Instead of running and hiding from these social situations, I must have decided at some point to face them head on.

It’s kind of like the ocean waves. When the wave is coming, you can either run from it to reach the safety of the beach, letting the wave peter out behind you, or you can dive into it head first and come out on the other side. The other side is deep, and you have to keep paddling to avoid drowning, but you get to swim amongst the fishes.

I don’t think one choice is better than another, but it’s good to know that the strategy can be changed when the need arises. Apparently, I have somehow managed to change it once subconsciously. I would like to learn to do this at will.

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Innsbruck. (Europe seems to really like coloured houses on riverbanks.)

Once in Italy, I managed to do some apartment searching. The choice of where to live is overwhelming, especially with the travel considerations. Rovereto is where the faculty is located, so it’s where most of my friends will probably be, and it’s cheaper to live there, but it’s really small (37k people). Trento is a nicer city for what I am used to (117k people), and I felt more comfortable there. It’s closer to the other parts of the university campus, i.e. CS and language and probably sports too. Travel between the two takes only 15 minutes by train, but the train only goes Rovereto -> Trento until 23:00 and Trento -> Rovereto until 21:00. Travel to the CS campus is apparently another bus ride away (I didn’t get the chance to try to do that though).

Without knowing exactly where I will be taking classes, it’s hard to judge the best place to live. However, since we arrived on a Friday, we had a little bit of time to search around. There was a train strike going on, so we didn’t manage to make it to Trento that day, but we did look a bit in Rovereto. Surprisingly, I saw some places that really appealed to me. The language barrier was a real thing (with one person not being able to speak anything but Italian), so I actually learned a lot of new words (well, since I hardly speak Italian, there is a lot to learn, and these are all pretty basic):

  • il appartamento – apartment
  • il propretario – the owner
  • il contratto – the contract
  • la lavatrice – clothes washing machine
  • il riscaldatore – heating
  • l’acqua – water
  • la camera – bedroom
  • il bagno – bathroom
  • la cucina – kitchen
  • mio marito – my husband (I had to explain I am moving with him)
  • il gatto – cat (most apartments seem cat friendly)
  • la luce – light (electricity)
  • il gas – gas (for stove)
  • il letto – bed
  • il divano – couch
  • le spese condominiali – condominium charges (for the building)
  • pagare – to pay
  • potere – to be able to (io posso, tu puoi, Lei può, noi possiamo, voi potete, loro possono)

I am actually emailing with one apartment right now. Hopefully this will work out and I won’t have to worry about searching for a place in August. I think that things will be more expensive in August, and also, I’ll be busy doing many other things. It would be nice if this could just get settled right now.

Costs:

  • €173 – dining out/ snacks
  • €34 – groceries
  • €55 – hostel
  • €59 – trains, gas
  • €30 – phone (more expensive this month)
  • €16 – clothes
  • €2 – launtry
  • Total: €369

Weeks Thirty-Seven through Thirty-Nine

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Valetta, seen from the ferry to Sliema.

Malta was lovely. It was three weeks ago now, and I still find myself daydreaming of limestone walls and the blue-green waters of the Mediterranean. It was hot and dry like back home, but the sea was much more pleasant. The water tasted of salt, but without the sharp bitterness that I am used to from the Pacific, the temperature was warm and pleasant, unlike the bone-chilling cold of the ocean, and the water was calm so you could just swim for miles. There were jellyfish in some places, like St. Peter’s Pool, which was a place we went cliff diving, but that was the only bad thing, and it wasn’t everywhere.

My trip there was organized by the Erasmus LCT partner universities, and the point was to meet the other LCT students. Since there are a number of universities in the LCT Consortium, there are LCT students all over Europe who I would never have met, had they not organized this. They do it in a different place each year, and those of us from Saarland were certainly happy that it was in an awesome place like Malta this year!  When we didn’t have meetings, we spent the days swimming, hiking, or cliff diving, and the nights eating seafood and chilling with some beers. As lovely as Malta was, all the wonderful people I met were lovelier still, and it was fantastic to get the chance to meet so many interesting people, and to get to know such a great community.

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A caper flower (like the capers that we eat).

Coming back to real life in Saarbrücken was not easy. In fact, since I came back, I’ve done nothing but work. I had a presentation, I had to finish my HiWi job (no more extra money coming in after this), and my other classes have also really picked up.

In Software Engineering, I am starting to “program” in Xcode using Swift. There are huge air quotes around “program” because apart from the fact that I have no idea what I am doing, I would also say that Xcode is a pain, especially for new people:

  • The whole thing is quite slow, and the simulator that you use to debug with tends to lag, crash, or simply not update. Sometimes you have to restart the whole computer to make it fix itself.
  • Xcode uses some sort of flat file to keep track of project files, so you can have project files strewn across half your file system if you aren’t careful. Adding and removing files from your project is also a hassle.
  • You use a GUI to design a UI and then you literally drag-and-drop using the GUI from the UI elements to lines in the code (wtf?). Presumably you could write actual C code instead of drag-and-dropping (at least I hope that’s true), but finding those C files is also not easy (plus I am not good in C yet).
  • Last, but certainly not least, you have to use a Mac and it has to be a newer Mac if you want to build for the newer iOS. This translates to being rich enough to buy a new Mac every few years.

In my Statistical Natural Language Processing (SNLP) class, we are writing proofs that don’t seem to tie in to much of anything else, based on slides that are confusing or full of mistakes, plus, our tutors either don’t know how any of it works either, or they are inexperienced teachers, but likely both. The class is incredibly frustrating, and not for good reason.

In my Semantic Parsing project seminar, we just started working on our project, which is going to involve using a neural net to parse natural language into Abstract Meaning Representations (AMRs). This is a topic I know very little about in general, but the penalty for failure is low for this class, so hopefully it will be a learning experience. Since we’ll probably be working with TensorFlow in this class, I decided to drop my TensorFlow seminar, because the timeline for the project completion for that seminar would have put me well into the time I should be moving to Italy anyway.

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One of many of the stray cats of Malta, carefully observing me as I try to sneak some pictures.

Speaking of Italy, this weekend, I plan to visit Trento, Italy, where I will be spending my second year, to try to get a lay of the land. My goal is to figure out a good general area to start looking for apartments. I don’t think I will have much luck in the housing search at this time, but at least I’ll know how things look.

I’ve only been to Italy once before, and it was also three weeks ago. During the trip to Malta, we had a layover in Pisa of 4 hours or so, which was just barely enough time for us to run out to the leaning tower, snap a couple pics, and take the bus back to the airport. It was a whirlwind tour of the main parts of  the city, but I remember most vividly the scent of flowers in the air. I think Trento will be a little different though, since it’s in the north, closer to the Alps.

My world is a whirlwind of emotions right now. One day I am hitting my head against a wall of code and math, and the next I am zooming through yet another country, and soon I will be learning another language too. Life never stands still!

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These were the flowers that smelled so nice in Pisa, Italy. Does anyone know what they are?

Costs:

  • €225 – rent
  • €98 – groceries
  • €10 – another replacement student card, because I lost mine again =(
  • €40 – dining/snacks
  • €30 – phone (made some longer phone calls and used lots of data)
  • €175 – Malta (mostly food)
  • €10 – bouldering
  • Total: €588

Weeks Thirty & Thirty One

The last two weeks have just been a whirlwind of emotion, I guess. My family came to visit me in Europe, and although it started out great, there was definitely a theme of misfortune throughout much of it. One of the stress points was that I was the only one that spoke any languages, so I had to translate/coordinate things, while also trying to keep my family from panicking. Another stress point was my family’s near pathological avoidance of planning. But those were minor things. The hardest part to deal with was the theft in the second leg of the trip… but let me start from the beginning.

My family landed in Paris. The weather was great, we hit up all the big sights, went to a bunch of museums, and ate a lot of delicious food. Unfortunately, my husband got kind of sick the first couple days, so we didn’t see much of him (at least he had seen Paris with me earlier), but he did manage to join us near the end for a couple things he hadn’t seen before.

The next place we had on our itinerary was Switzerland. As mentioned, my family has some sort of strange aversion to finalizing plans. Thankfully, my mom had ordered accommodation for us near Paris, Geneva, and Munich for the trip, but she hadn’t planned on how to get from one place to the next. We actually weren’t even staying in Geneva or Munich itself for the second and third parts of the trip, but quite far away by public transport in both places, so my parents intended to rent a car once in Geneva and to use it for the rest of the trip.

We took a train from Paris to the small town we were staying at near Geneva (actually in France). The only affordable train that was available by the time we were making the booking would come in after 22:00. Like most small towns, this one didn’t really have a public transport system that late at night, which meant we ended up waiting around for a long time for 2 separate taxis to take us to the house we were staying at.

Then, the next day was completely wasted on trying to get that rental car. We had to split up into 2 groups. One group went to rent a car at a nearby place for the duration of our stay near Geneva, and the second to the Geneva airport (via 3 busses) to rent a different car to Munich. We had to do it this way because the rental car agencies that rented internationally had no cars available since we didn’t reserve ahead of time. Suffice it to say, this was a very stressful and frustrating day for everyone.

The day after, my big brother got sick, and I later caught it as well. (By the way, I’ve been sick 7 out of 8 months I’ve been in Europe.) I was actually expecting to get sick since my family had traveled on planes, so I wasn’t surprised, but that didn’t make it any less annoying. Also, one of the days, my husband ended up having to work so we didn’t see much of him again. But Switzerland, eastern France, and the Alps were beautiful, so we managed to enjoy our time there nonetheless.

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We had to leave quite late on our last day in Switzerland, because we had to do a lot of driving back and forth to drop off the old car and pick up the new one. On our way out, we stopped by Lausanne. My family went to the cathedral, and my husband and I went to visit with a friend.

This is when it all went to shit.

We were having a great time, right up until my big brother called to tell us that in the hour or so that they had been away from their car, it had gotten a window smashed. My husband’s and my backpacks were stolen. These were the only two things in the car cabin (since we didn’t have space for them in the trunk), and so they were the two things that were stolen. Thankfully, nothing else was taken, and everyone’s passports, money, and phones were safe as well. Also, thankfully my friend was willing to waste an entire night with us at the police to help explain the situation, since although I speak French, I would still have trouble with the whole process. Most importantly, no one was hurt.

However, we lost the rest of the day and night to this, and we had to rent a hotel nearby to stay the night as well. Even though it was just mine and my husband’s stuff, we lost a lot of expensive things to this theft, as well as a lot of small things that are just annoying to have to collect again. In my case, I lost my backpack, which had basically my whole life in it (I don’t have a lot with me in Europe). Here’s a summary of the major things:

  • Both of our house keys and my husband’s car keys (~$60 for me to replace, ~$800 for him to replace the electronic car key)
  • My husband’s expensive MacBook Pro (~$1700)
  • Much of my husbands collection of Netrunner cards, along with his winnings (promo cards, special tokens, etc.) from championships (~$350)
  • A brand new Nintendo Switch my husband had just gotten me as a gift with the new Zelda game (~$350)
  • My backpack which I had spent 6 months finding to be exactly right for my needs (~$100)
  • My work laptop that I just bought a few months ago (~$600)
  • A huge external hard drive with a bunch of pictures; thankfully I have the pictures backed up elsewhere (~$100)
  • Almost all of the clothes I own including my nice button up shirt, my travel towel, my toiletries (~$170 I guess)
  • My glasses case with a spare pair of glasses, and most of my glasses cleaning cloths (~$200)
  • Chargers for everything, including my only USB Type C to Type C for my phone and my US extension cord for all my appliances
  • All the little junk I carry in my backpack (e.g. a pocket knife, a combination lock for when I go to hostels, a pen+stylus, plug adapters, my key chains, etc.)
  • My Blizzard authenticator, so I guess I have to figure out how to cancel that
  • All the little souvenirs I had just bought from Paris (magnets/postcards)
  • Around 6 months worth of my thyroxine prescription meds that my husband had brought me from the US

So yea… after this, the vacation got less fun (and of course the two days after I come home are Easter vacation days in Germany, so I can’t even buy replacement clothes right away). I am very lucky that I was with my family during this time though, because they really helped me out. My big brother and dad generously generously offered me their laptops (I ended up taking my big brother’s). My mom bought me some clothes, my dad bought me some chargers and a cheapo backpack, I bought my husband a full collection of Netrunner cards… Basically, all the stuff will be replaced eventually.

After all that, what were we to do, but continue on with the plan? We drove to our AirBnB near Munich. We visited Neuschwanstein Castle, I climbed up to the top of a cliff to catch the sunset, we ate more amazing food, and eventually, we said our goodbyes.

It’s gonna sound weird to say, but despite all of that shit, I had a good vacation. Even though so many frustrating things happened, I didn’t realize how much I had missed my family, and of course my husband (who is still living in the US). And as for the stolen stuff, well, it’s just stuff.

Lessons learned:

  • Keep your passport/money/phone on you. This saved our bacon.
  • Don’t leave stuff in the car cabin. This makes you an easy target..
  • Don’t bring expensive stuff on trips. Then it hurts less to replace.
  • Leave a few pairs of shirts at home so you have clothes for when you return.
  • Have great friends and family. I don’t know how to do that, I just got lucky.

Costs:

  • rent – €225
  • replacing some of my things (should be in the mail soon) – ~$250
  • the gift of an entire Netrunner card collection for my husband – $350
  • souvenirs (most of them now stolen) – €33
  • transportation – €129
  • lockers to store stuff at the train station – €30
  • food (my family paid most of the time) – €60
  • cold medicine/cough drops – €8
  • Total: €404 and $600

Week Twenty-Seven

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This week I went to the French part of Switzerland to visit a friend. His town is near Lausanne, nestled in the middle of a stretch of vineyards, on the banks of Lac Léman, opposite the Alps. In the three days that I was there, we walked all over the place. We climbed up steep roads alongside vineyards on the hill overlooking the lake. We walked down tiny winding paths through the vines themselves. We climbed up towers overlooking the city, including to the very top of the cathedral in Lausanne, and we walked through the cobbled streets and shops down to the lake’s shore. Up and down and all around, I think we probably ended up walking around 15 miles a day, but it’s hard to judge. We also took the train to nearby towns, and out to other cities in Switzerland. All together, we visited the areas of Lausanne, Montreux, Fribourg, Bern, and Luzern.

This region has an ethereal beauty that can’t really be described or photographed– it’s something you have to see for yourself… The vines on the hills below, the spring flowers, the snow-clad faces of the Alps reflecting off the still waters of the lake… I know it’s a cliché to say, but it really takes your breath away.

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Costs

I spent a lot of money again, but actually less than I feared I would. Also, I didn’t really break the costs down that carefully while I was on vacation either.

  • €288 – trips (train tickets, food, souvenirs)
  • €26 – groceries
  • €29 – phone (used more data last month)
  • Total: €343

Weeks Twenty-Five & Twenty-Six

The last couple weeks have not been great for travel. After the shenanigans last week, I’ve been nervous when thinking about having to take more trains. As it turns out, it’s not the trains I should have been worried about. More on that in a minute.

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Last week, a friend from the US came to Europe and we visited Copenhagen together. It was a lovely city that reminded me quite a bit of Portland, Oregon, which I do miss. From the warehouse of street food carts at Paperøen (which turns into a party at night) and the upscale version of the same at Torvehallerne, to the fine/homey dining and fancy beer culture, Copenhagen definitely shares Portland’s love of mixing together the up-scale with the everyman, the weird with the comfortable, the unique with the traditional. (Well, maybe Portland isn’t known for traditional, so in that I suppose they differ.) Both also have a great transportation system, and are also incredibly bike friendly (Copenhagen moreso in both cases, since it is a European city).

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Yea, I feel ya, lady.

However, unlike Portland, Copenhagen is just so damn cold! By March, Portland is usually experiencing that weird spring weather, where it can’t decide whether it wants to rain, hail, or be sunny. By contrast, Copenhagen was quite firmly in the grey, rainy, windy and near 0 degrees Celsius camp. I got through the cold by looking forward to flying immediately afterwards to Porto, where the weather promised to get up to 17 degrees C.

Long story short, go to Copenhagen for food, beer, coffee, gaming, adorable shops, cool castles, viking history, beautiful canals with coloured houses in Nyhavn (an idea apparently borrowed from Amsterdam by King Christian V), and a cool language (check out that vowel space) plus Elder Furthark runes for those of you who are linguists out there– but go during the summer! By the way, you can also visit Sweden, by taking a short train from the Copenhagen Airport to Malmø. Malmø is quite small and there isn’t much there, but if you want a bit of quiet, away from the bustle of the big city, it’s still nice for a half-day trip.

Our last day in Copenhagen, we met some friends for a hot coffee, had an amazingly unique and delicious dinner, and were headed home via the efficient transportation system, when I received an email from Ryanair, the budget airline I was taking to Porto in the morning.

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Malmø, Sweden.

My flight was cancelled.  Apparently, there was some sort of air traffic controller strike in France (is anyone surprised?), and no airlines could fly over France. So even though my plane was not landing in France, since it would have to fly over it, the flight was cancelled. Ryanair reimbursed me for my flight; however, I had already booked a non-refundable train ticket home from that vacation a few days later and an AirBnB. Plus, now I had to get transportation back home from Luxembourg in the morning. Ryanair refused to reimburse me for this (of course), so I am basically out approximately €70. I also don’t know if I’ll have another opportunity to go to Portugal while I am here. Probably not this year, since it’s already looking like it will be a very busy 5 months.

I considered taking the time and going somewhere else for a few days, but honestly, I actually do have a lot of work to get done, and coming home gives me a chance to crack down on some of it before a trip to Switzerland next week. It also gave me a chance to attend a few different gatherings to say bye to folks who are leaving this semester. I gotta say, Saarland is a bit meh, but we have a great group of people that I will really miss. It’s hard to believe I only have 4.5 months left here before I move to Italy… and I don’t speak a word of Italian yet, aaahh!

Costs

I spent a lot on fancy food during my travels so far. It’s only been two weeks, and I’m already projecting to be way over my ideal budget (I expect Switzerland will be quite expensive too). Hopefully, I can stay within my break even budget. That reminds me… I have to catch up on my HiWi job hours.

  • €225 – rent
  • €90 – health insurance
  • €21 – other medical expenses
  • €30 – phone (called my mom a lot this month)
  • €17 – bouldering (wish I knew why they let me in for cheaper one of the times)
  • €230 – dining out/drinks in Copenhagen
  • €86 – dining out/drinks in Köln
  • €20 – souvenirs
  • €24 – groceries
  • €2 – laundry
  • Total: €775

Karneval Shenanigans

I left Saarbrücken for Karneval in Köln on Sunday around 10:00, with the intention of returning Monday night. The train took me through a connection in Koblenz to Köln. The festivities had already started for a few guys in banana costumes, who were drinking and blasting Karneval music on the train. Köln is the center for the Karneval in Germany, kind of like New Orleans is the center for the similar holiday, Mardi Gras, in the US. I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, or Karneval or anything like it before, and I am not a big drinker, but I wanted to experience a bit of this unique holiday.

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I came in on Sunday and met up with some friends who were already there. We had just enough time to grab a late lunch and explore some of the beautiful sights of the city before dark, when we sat down with a glass of wine each at an outdoor patio restaurant. There was going to be a parade on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) so my friends were letting me stay at their AirBnB that night so that I could see the whole thing.

The parade was really something. Beer kegs lined the parade route, surrounded by clown-costumed families and friends, singing “Kölle Alaaf!” Bands, floats, cheerleaders, and standard bearers went by, each group dressed in their own colours. Many of the floats had some sort of political commentary, though I didn’t always follow it.

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As the floats went by, children in animal costumes asked for sweets by yelling “kamelle.” Those in the parade threw candy and flowers in the general direction of the yelling revelers, and the people on the floats rained literal armfuls of candy down at us. These weren’t always small candy pieces either. Often, they were regular sized chocolate bars, and a couple times I even caught actual boxed candy.

My haul was as big as any Halloween haul I have had in the US as a child, and it included not only countless chocolates, wafers, gummies, suckers, and two boxed candies, but also five flowers (that I received by throwing kisses to the people on the floats), an orange, and a small sausage, of all things. The family next to me had three kids dressed up in matching dinosaur costumes, and their loot consisted of no less than five full cloth bags of candy!

Some four hours after the start of the parade, we decided to duck out for a late lunch. When we were done a couple of hours later, the parade was still going on, and people were getting progressively more drunk. I had to catch my train back to Koblenz and then Saarbrücken (SB) early that evening, so we went back to the apartment, I collected my things, and headed out soon after. It was 19:15 when I left to catch my 19:53 train.

That was when it all went to shit.

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Since the rest of this post is depressing, I’ll intersperse it with nicer pictures of the Mosel river that I took on the way home (spoilers, I eventually did make it home), so I can feel less bad about the whole experience.

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Because of the holiday, the Stadtbahn (light rail) in Köln was running entirely irregularly. They gave up on posting the times and just announced that the trains were coming as they could. What should have been a 15 minute ride transformed into a 40 minute slog, with the trains stopping two or three times between each stop, presumably due to people on the tracks or who knows what. I really thought I’d miss my train to Koblenz, but I ran and made it.

My train, however, was late too, and I had a connection to catch in Koblenz to SB. Five minutes transformed to 15 and then to 20. My layover in Koblenz was supposed to be only 20 minutes long so I thought I would miss my connection, but it turns out my next train was also late. I would have 4 minutes to change platforms. As the train came to a stop, me and a handful of others booked it underground towards the next platform. Our train was still there. We ran up to it and pressed the door open buttons; the doors didn’t open for us; the train pulled away. These regional trains usually come in, open their doors for about 30 seconds, and then leave, so it was no surprise.

So now I was in Koblenz and had to find a new connection to SB. I went to talk to the Reisezentrum (trip center). The lady there wrote me an ersatz ticket, putting her official stamp on a form that said that I could take the next train, and that I would get compensated for the delay. I would have another layover in the middle, this time of only 4 minutes (not really enough time to transfer trains, as I had just learned from my last attempt).

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Still, I went back to the platforms and found my train. When it failed to leave more than 10 minutes after the scheduled time, it became quickly apparent that there was no point in staying on it, so I was already trying to get info from the train conductors in my broken German, and googling for new train times. By now it was around 22:00 and I had essentially missed all the connections to SB in other cities, so I needed to figure out a new plan, or else end up spending the night in a train station.

Me and a handful of others ended up getting off this train too. We all went back downstairs to talk to the Reisezentrum again. The lady I got this time was not very helpful. She tried to get me onto a train to Trier, where I would take a taxi for over and hour to SB. The idea was that Deutsche Bahn would reimburse me for those costs (i.e. I would have to pay for it myself first). The lady didn’t let me talk and clarify how exactly this would work. She just kept talking over me, saying that I should hurry up and catch “my” train to Trier. I declined, and told her I needed a ticket back to Köln, where my friend was still staying the night, thank goodness. She turned my ersatz ticket over, and wrote on it that I could take a train back to Köln, and stamped it.

I went back up to the platforms. The signs on platforms 2 and 3 kept switching info. The train back to Köln was supposed to come in to platform 3, but there was a train at platform 2 now and the sign and voice were saying this was the train to Köln. The train was just standing there. I asked a nearby employee if this was my train, but she didn’t know. She said her colleagues on the train believed it was meant to go elsewhere, but they also didn’t know. No one knew.

Eventually, that train took off to wherever it was going (not Köln I guess). At this point, I was getting pretty agitated. I went back downstairs to look at the boards, I went back upstairs to wait for the trains, I just sort of wandered around pointlessly.

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Finally, an intercity (fast) train came into platform 3, but I couldn’t tell any longer if it was my train or not. I asked a nearby Deutsche Bahn (DB) employee, and showed her the paper the Reisezentrum person had written me. The employee asked me if my original ticket was intercity (IC) or regional (RE). I didn’t know how to answer correctly in German, because the first leg of the trip had been on an IC and the second was supposed to be on an RE. Another nearby employee got roped into our conversation, to look at my note. He said it shouldn’t matter, and I should get on the IC train. Unfortunately, by the time he said that, the doors of the IC train were closed, and I was left pressing the button ineffectively (for the second time that night) as the train slowly took off.

There was one more train coming through Koblenz towards Köln that night. One last, late night, ultra slow, regional (RE) train. It was meant to come around 22:30, but was coming 20 minutes late. 20 minutes became 40, but it did finally come around 11:10 or so, and I made it on.

It took 1.5 hours to get back to Köln, because the RE train stopped at every single tiny stop along the way. When I got to Köln, I found the light rail again, and headed back to exactly where I had left from around six hours earlier. Thank the stars my friends still had their AirBnB for one more night, so I had a place to sleep.

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I left early the next morning, and went straight back to the Köln Hauptbahnhof (main station). I asked the Reisezentrum there about how I could get home now. They told me the upcoming schedule and assured me that the handwritten note the lady had given me the night before was sufficient to get me home. I got on the next train to Koblenz (again).

In Koblenz, my connection was a double train, where the two halves would split up in Trier, one going to SB and the other to Luxembourg. I asked three different people to make sure I was on the correct part, because I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. The train followed the picturesque Mosel River towards home, but I didn’t really breathe easy until we passed Trier and I knew for sure that I was headed the right way.

One stop before SB, the train got delayed again for another 30 minutes due to some issue on the tracks. When I finally got back to SB, I went to the Reisezentrum there to ask about compensation. It will take Deutsche Bahn two weeks to compensate me for my troubles, and the compensation will be just half the cost of my trip.

Lesson learned: don’t travel on Rosenmontag.

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